Naomi lit a lamp and sat up on her straw pallet. She didn't know how she would feel, being back home in Elimelech's house. So quiet. So empty. So different from her days here as a young mother, scolding her sons and happily nagging her husband--her men all took it in stride, sometimes mocking her behind her back, sometimes genuinely afraid of her. She chuckled briefly.
Then, the famine crept up on them, the fields yeilding less and less every year. The family grew more silently desperate, and Naomi learned quickly not too push her hardworking menfolk too much. Elimelech once said during an especially fatigued moment that he missed her nagging, the boys nodding their heads in grim agreement.
Missed my nagging! Naomi chuckled again at the memory of his comment. She recalled how she responded with "Did you remember to bring the goat back from the back pasture so I can milk it? Where's my goat?" with her old impatient tone. They all roared with laughter until they cried. It took hard times to appreciate the specialness of ordinary days. We miss the most strange things, she thought.
Before, this house seemed too small and constantly having to be cleaned and put in order, she mused. All that work! To be sitting without anything to do was uncanny and unnatural. Those were the days. Naomi closed her eyes. It was more painful being here than she thought.
Because of her little speech to the old friends and neighbors recieving them right at the beginning, people knew enough to stay away. No one knocked on the door to visit and gossip or ask a hundred questions. Naomi preferred it this way, which was so different from the old days. In the old days, her home was open to all the women in the neighborhood as they worked and talked and watched babies together. When the famine came, they came to worry and commiserate together with hushed voices so the children couldn't overhear.
Now, everyone must be at the harvest. The famine is over, and her family is gone. Not here to rejoice and celebrate and work. Elimelech knew this day would come, but didn't live to see it. The sight of the abundant sheaves of grain burned her eyes as they passed through the fields on the way to town.
Naomi laid back down on her bed. Such a contrast to the last harvest before they left for Moab. The whole town was at the threshing floor, witnessing the meager return for their year long labors. There wasn't enough to feed everyone and what there was, would go to the highest bidder, which would be very high indeed. People were going to die of starvation.
Some of the men broke down and fell on their knees, Elimelech among them. Like herself, he was thinking of Mahlon and Chilion, both whom were never strong physically and were the least likely to survive the famine. Near him was Boaz, a family member.
Boaz, even during this dark time, kept the old practices of providing for the poor by leaving portions of his fields for them to glean or gather food for themselves. He even left larger portions than required in the Law as times got tighter. Besides saving for seed for next year's planting, he was under much strain for his own livelihood. Knowing Boaz, like everyone did, he probably refrained from marriage and raising his own family in order to save seed grain and provide for the poor. He starved as much as everyone else.
In order to relieve the strain on the village and protect his vulnerable family, Elimelech decided to leave before it was too late. They still had food, they still had some strength and some means. The boys were of age to be married--how would we manage that in Moab, Naomi inquired of him. Elimelech replied that the Law prohibited our women to marry Moabite men, but not for our men to marry Moabite women. Well, make sure that they are rich, she replied. Her Eli laughed out loud. It was a rare sound these days and it made her smile a little. Yes, my Naomi, we will come back with daughters-in-law, grandchildren and food for everyone to share!
At recalling this, Naomi gave out a long sigh and closed her eyes. They had hoped the boys would grow stronger and recover from their health problems--Eli had secured good, caring brides for them but no matter what they did, they declined further and further. The burden of starting over in Moab fell on Elimelech's shoulders alone, and he was the first to go under the pressure. It wasn't long before Mahlon and Chilion followed him.
It was more than Naomi could bear. Do you care, Lord? Did we offend You? What do You want from me? The three questions haunted her and kept her from her rest, until she heard Ruth return from her gleaning.